When the UAE walk out tonight against Honduras in their FIFA Under-17 World Cup opener, the first man the fans will see is Humaid Salmein.
The Young Whites’ captain is the heartbeat of the team. An integral part of the midfield and the player that keeps his team-mates on the straight and narrow off the field – Salmein is someone who leads by example.
A midfielder – he fancies – in the mould of Khamis Esmail or his hero Yaya Toure, the Al Ahli prospect is acutely aware of the responsibility laid on his shoulders.
Going into the tournament, he can afford to feel confident after he leading his side to impressive results against the likes of Mexico, Argentina and the Ivory Coast, as well as a slew of Asian sides from older age groups, including fully-grown men.
The extensive preparations illustrate how seriously the team and the country are taking the competition, and Salmein isn’t likely to take the task lightly. “As captain of this team, this is a once in a lifetime chance,” the skipper told Sport360°.
“Every member of the team would love to be the captain. I love the fact that I have that honour, although I am also aware of the responsibility that comes with it. We’re lucky in that we didn’t have to qualify and we can just concentrate on preparing. I’m really looking forward to just going out and doing my best on the pitch.”
A native of Fujairah, Salmein has only recently transferred to Al Ahli. Life is moving quickly for the youngster who is tipped to be one of the figureheads for a generation of players expected to take over from the current crop who are in the midst of a 15-game winning streak.
But that’s to forget Salmein is a boy like any other. He comes from a large family with five siblings and his spare time is spent like so many, hanging out in malls, going to the cinema, as well as playing beach soccer and listening to music. Simplicity is something that the Ahli midfielder embraces.
“Football for me is simple, it’s a ball and a guy,” he explained. “The rest comes with experience, and the experience we’re getting day after day. For my friends and I, it doesn’t matter which team we are playing against, their age, their nationality or their level. There are 11 men against 11 men on the field and everything is possible in football.”
That assertive nature and uncomplicated manner is perhaps why he will lead the team out today. “As a captain, I’m really high on discipline,” he added. “Anyone can be the captain of a team but you need to be very disciplined.
“You need to have attention to detail and always be on your toes. That’s what I’m about and I think that’s what makes me different from others.”
Today will see Salmein take on the biggest task of his life so far. The UAE are quietly confident of their chances of moving out of their group and making waves in the tournament. The players and staff feel they have the quality to hurt teams, but Salmein feels that it is their preparation which will set them apart.
“We’ve done a few training camps and we have come up against top teams that have qualified for the World Cup,” he said. “We have been playing older teams so we can understand the psychology of how they play, it’s a big part of what we have been trying to do.
The pressure is on against more advanced teams with more experience so we’re taking everything we have learnt with us to the World Cup."